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Rep. George Santos' work for firm accused of Ponzi scheme drew SEC scrutiny

Campaign of Deceit | CBS Reports
Campaign of Deceit: The Election of George Santos | CBS Reports 22:49

Watch the CBS Reports documentary "Campaign of Deceit: The Election of George Santos" in the video player above. 

Embattled GOP Rep. George Santos' work for a company that allegedly orchestrated a Ponzi scheme attracted scrutiny from federal regulators, according to a witness who has fielded questions from investigators.

The freshman New York lawmaker, whose litany of false and misleading claims about his past has left him with few allies, even among his fellow Republicans, previously worked for an investment firm known as the Harbor City Capital Corporation. The company was shut down by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which in 2021 called it a "classic Ponzi scheme."

Santos has said he wasn't aware of any wrongdoing at Harbor City, where he began working in 2020. He was not named in the SEC's complaint against the firm, but a childhood friend said federal investigators called her after she spoke publicly about witnessing Santos' investment pitch.

In an interview for the CBS Reports documentary "Campaign of Deceit," Tiffany Bogosian described how she bumped into Santos, her old junior high classmate, at a Starbucks in 2020. As they caught up, she mentioned that she'd become an attorney and had recently helped a client reach a $2 million settlement.

Santos, then a regional director for Harbor City, promptly invited her and her client to dinner, Bogosian said in "Campaign of Deceit," which was released Thursday. She said when they arrived for the meal at Il Bacco, an Italian restaurant in Queens, she was brought into a "huge room" with "one table in the middle." 

"He asked for a $300,000 principal investment, and he essentially said the client was not allowed to know what it was being invested in at all," Bogosian said, adding that she didn't like the sound of it. Bogosian's client turned Santos down.

Rep. George Santos
Rep. George Santos leaves a GOP caucus meeting on Capitol Hill on Jan. 25, 2023, in Washington, D.C. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Santos' meeting with Bogosian and her client was first reported by The Washington Post in January. Bogosian told CBS News that SEC investigators interviewed her and her client after that story was published. The agency, which has not named Santos in its Harbor City investigation, did not reply to a request for comment. 

Santos also did not return repeated requests for comment.

"It's crazy to me now thinking back, because I mean, he's had these characteristics from so young," Bogosian said of her former classmate at I.S. 125 in New York City's Queens borough, who went by the name George Devolder at the time.

She said he was bullied as a kid.

George Santos (Devolder) school photo
A school yearbook photo of George Santos, then known as George Devolder. CBS News

"And he was trying to be accepted and fit in. And I think he always felt like an outcast," Bogosian said. "He started these lies, and I think it just continued. And this was the only way that he knew."

Over the course of two campaigns for Congress in New York's 3rd Congressional District, Santos' inaccurate and misleading statements about his own biography included claims that he had Jewish heritage, that his mother worked at the World Trade Center and was there the day of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, and that he attended a prestigious private high school and New York's City College.

Rabbi Deborah Bravo, who leads a synagogue in Santos' district, said she thinks Santos spun false tales that he knew would connect with voters.

"I actually think there was a sick brilliance in the way that he picked different stories that I think he thought would make him connected to the people of our district," Bravo said. "When all he really needed to do was just tell the truth of who you were and see if people liked that truth."

Instead, many in Santos' life, like Bogosian, said they feel "duped" by his deceits. 

"It worked for him then and I think it worked for him for a long time. I mean, it got him into Congress," she said.

Still, when Bogosian saw Santos on television at the Capitol last month, sitting by himself, isolated from other members of Congress, she said she felt bad for him.

Bogosian said she reached out, asking how he was doing. She said his reply was unrepentant. 

It was all "fake news," he said.

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